Duke lacrosse rising to top is best story not being told

ON COLLEGE LACROSSE

The Kickoff

March 07, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

It's nice to see Duke ranked No. 1 again in men's college lacrosse. It's great to see attackman Matt Danowski scoring goals, Zack Greer's magic stick-handling and defensemen Casey Carroll and Nick O'Hara running the field. Mike Pressler is no longer the Blue Devils' coach, but Duke has a classy replacement in John Danowski.

This would be a perfect time for the Blue Devils to thumb their noses at all who pointed fingers or laughed at their program last season, but they won't. Danowski is too sophisticated for that. Instead, their talking is being done on the field as lacrosse's best team, ahead of traditional favorites Johns Hopkins, Syracuse and Virginia.

Even now, the media are still trying to create stories where there are none, following the Blue Devils on the road as if they are the New York Yankees or one of America's other most hated teams.

But there are no stories, only the fact that a lot of people tried to turn a college problem into a Duke or lacrosse problem last spring.

You remember, don't you?

There were sexual assault charges against Duke lacrosse players Collin Finnerty, Reade Seligman and David Evans, and the victim was an African-American woman. The lacrosse program was shut down for the 2006 season and the three players left school. Pressler was forced to resign because this became the hot story around America.

There were racial overtones to it. It was an alleged crime committed by the affluent because, after all, we all know that every lacrosse player is wealthy and white. That's absurd, but the Black Panthers came to Durham, N.C., and so did Jesse Jackson. Fox News flew in Geraldo Rivera because no investigation is complete without him snooping around.

But where are they now? Why aren't we seeing more stories about the revival of Duke's lacrosse program, which became the No. 1 team over the weekend? As far as the critics were concerned, the story ended the day the rape charges were dropped against the three players. The players are still facing kidnapping and sexual offense charges, but this case is coming apart, especially after the district attorney recently was charged with ethics violations.

So now, we all have to reflect about a story that was blown out of proportion. The sad part is that this story will never end for the alleged victim or the three players. Their lives will never be the same because certain memories and fabrications will linger like a nagging headache.

You can't condone the players' behavior. It was far from appropriate, and there still might be convictions. But the guiltiest parties in this mess were the people who rushed to judgment on Duke's lacrosse program, including the school president who canceled the team's season.

School presidents are like everyone else. We all seem to make quick judgments on athletes, regardless of whether they're professional or connected with a big-time college program. We're used to hearing about the improprieties of college football and basketball. We love to criticize athletes for the special privileges and treatment they receive. And as soon as they're in trouble, we point fingers at them without hesitation.

That's what happened at Duke. It was a rush to judgment.

When this case is finished, it probably will end like similar incidents on other college campuses. At the root of most problems, there is a trail that leads to alcohol abuse. Some time in the future, it will happen at another school.

It's not a Duke or a lacrosse problem, but a college problem that happens in football, basketball, baseball, softball and field hockey. There is a lesson to be learned, and parents as well as coaches and educators need to do a better job of teaching, lecturing and implementing policies when their children are at home and in school. And students have to make good decisions or suffer the consequences.

The overblown aftermath of the incident at Duke could have been averted if more patience and just plain, old common sense were exercised. At Duke, the Blue Devils seemed to have gotten over it. They ignore some of the occasional ignorant signs they see on the road and continue to rally around their three former teammates. They can't get last year back, but they have regained some status.

And this week, they climbed back to the top of college lacrosse, a position they shouldn't have been forced to leave a year ago.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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